Residents living in the shadow of the West Herts College development say “disgraceful” eleventh hour amendments to the agreed plans will make their lives a misery.
As work on the multimillion pound project, in Hempstead Road, reaches its conclusion, the college will ask councillors tonight (Thursday) to retrospectively approve significant alterations to plans agreed in 2007 and 2008 – most notably the installation of three large chimneys.
The chimneys, which are already billowing smoke into the gardens of neighbouring houses, have drawn furious criticism from residents and councillors, who claim the college has “played fast and loose with the planning system.”
Watford Borough Council’s development control committee, which meets this evening, must now rule on the chimneys’ legality. In a separate, equally contested application its members must also formally approve noise levels at the site.
But furious residents of Cassiobury Drive, whose homes back onto the new campus, are urging councillors to “teach the college a lesson” and reject both applications – thereby throwing its September opening plans into costly chaos.
Supported by some local councillors, they claim the Service Intake Building (SIB) containing the college’s boilers (with chimneys), rubbish, recycling, and delivery areas, will decimate the value of their homes and prevent the enjoyment of their gardens Dad-of-three Jeremy Irvine, of Cassiobury Drive, said: “What they have done is absolutely disgraceful. When the wind blows towards us the smoke is choking.
How are the children here supposed to enjoy their gardens? How are we supposed to open windows? I can’t believe they have done this without having planning permission.
The committee needs to reject this and teach them [the college] a lesson.”
Also of great concern to the residents is the level of noise created – far in excess, they claim, of what was promised when the development was first approved.
An independent sound survey, they claim, shows noise regularly exceeds recommended limits – something that will only get worse when up to 200 lorries each week visit.
Neighbour Diane Hudson said: “It’s had a big impact on our quality of life. We can constantly hear the sound of lorries reversing [down the adjoining access road] because there is nowhere for them to turn around. How can that be approved by the council?
When people come and visit me they can’t believe what’s been built here.”
The committee, however, has been advised by expert council officers to do just that.
Councillor Andrew Mortimer, a vocal supporter of the residents, advised the committee to think again.
He said: “I think residents and the planning committee have been misled. The college must be taught that they can’t play fast and loose with the planning process. They need to go back to the drawing board.”
Defending the role of the council, Mayor Dorothy Thornhill suggested it was the college that was at fault.
She said: “This is weighing heavily on the members of the committee but the council is not the reason why we are here. It was the college that submitted inadequate plans to us.”
College chief executive and principal Elizabeth Rushton defended the college. She said: “I can empathise entirely with the residents but we have tried our best to mitigate the impact of the development.”